Businesses hopeful of G8 revival

Prime Minister David Cameron welcomes President of the United States, Barack Obama, to this year's G8 Summit on Lough Erne
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomes President of the United States, Barack Obama, to this year's G8 Summit on Lough Erne

Fermanagh is gearing up for a windfall from the G8 summit, local businesses have said.

Bars, restaurants, hoteliers and shopkeepers hope to cash in following the international exposure of the scenic Lough Erne region where world leaders met.

Economic growth this year in Northern Ireland is predicted at about 0.5%, according to economist Esmond Birnie, and it could be some time before the true benefit of the international meeting is reflected in foreign investment and tourist numbers.

A massive investment conference is due to be held in the region in the autumn led by the Prime Minister and a series of measures have been announced to boost enterprise in the struggling local economy.

Television pictures beamed around the world of global leaders in Fermanagh, the Lakeland County and the beautiful Lough Erne golf resort have excited expectations among local businesses.

Patrick Conlon, who owns the Shuphoric Ladies Footwear Boutique in Enniskillen, sold two pairs of his most expensive Dutch-made shoes to two Russian journalists during the summit.

“There will be a lot more money flowing into the economy, particularly the service industry with the police and the ambulance staff, all that will flow back into the economy, the leaders’ staff,” he said.

“They are all spending in the local economy.”

A leading hotelier called for more effort to sell the region to tourists abroad.

Rodney Watson, owner of the Killyhevlin hotel in Enniskillen since 1976, said: “Potentially there should be ten times as many boats in the Lough and even with a slight upturn in bed occupancy in the county could double the number of out of state visitors.”

Northern Ireland’s ministerial Executive has focused on promoting high-quality jobs from foreign direct investors like US technology firm All State - where up to 650 new jobs were created recently in the second largest jobs announcement since political powers were devolved from Westminster to Stormont.

Alastair Hamilton, chief executive of government jobs creation agency Invest NI, said Northern Ireland was well-placed to capitalise on the G8 benefits.

“It is a pleasant irony that there has been no violence,” he said.

“The headlines about Northern Ireland have been out there for a long time and when there are recurring difficulties those come to light again.”

Northern Ireland’s economic productivity languishes 20% behind the UK.

The senior executive said: “In the current climate where employment is running at just under 8%, there is a lot to be done.”

He added: “My ambition is that we will be able to attract delegations back to that investment conference to tell them the full story because a lot of the focus has been on the politics but we have a tremendous business story to tell.”

Three-quarters of Northern Ireland’s trade last year was to G8 countries, worth £9.5 billion.

According to the World Bank, a country which has experienced 30 years of violence has a significantly higher poverty rate than one which has been conflict-free and strengthened governance was crucial to breaking the cycle.

Seamus McAleavey, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), said economics should form a key pillar of conflict transformation in the region.

Northern Ireland has persistently higher levels of unemployment, lower wages and more severe pockets of deprivation than many comparable regions in the rest of the UK and Europe.

“As in many advanced economies, reducing inequality or integrating pockets of deprivation are not core issues driving economic policy. Yet, given what we know about the destabilising impacts of inequality, they should be,” he said.

“This will require more flexible, localised and innovative governance and Government.

“It will require civil society, social enterprises, business and the public sector to work together to provide sustainable assistance to disadvantaged communities. And above all it will take strong and strategic leadership from within Northern Ireland.”

Mr Birnie, chief economist at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, said there was structural weakness in the economy.

“While the Northern Ireland economy remains finely balanced between stagnation and recovery, I think we can say - subject always to the impact of external events - that an economic recovery is now under way, even if it may not feel like that,” he added.